Archive for June, 2011

Blackberry Sauce

blackberries in food mill


Things have been more insane here in Tennessee than they have been in a long time. We’ve got some really great news, a new job, and a huge 2nd Annual 4th Shindig on the 3rd. So I bring you a re-post from my own blog. Since it’s blackberry season here in the South, I thought I’d share one of my favorite recipes. I hope you enjoy!


As fun as it would be, I’d love to prepare all of our blackberries into wine for next year. Plain and simple, I just don’t have the space. To a point jam is a waste. We don’t eat enough of it to warrant making pint after pint – and besides, I have the tendancy to burn blackberry jam. So what better use than to prepare a sauce? Something easy, but would taste just as great drizzled over a dessert like pound cake or cheesecake as it would broiled on a tenderloin. This recipe will appeal to all of you Foodies and those of you that eat seasonally (and I’d like to believe even my mother who despises berries for their seeds.) Even better – it’s easy to make!





Blackberry Sauce

  • 1 quart clean blackberries
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  1. Pick through berries keeping only fresh fruit. Add to water and heat on medium high until low boil.
  2. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Use a food mill to remove seeds and skins from fruit. If you don’t have a food mill use a mesh strainer, but be sure to smush as much of that pulp through as you can. After that you’ll realize why the investment in a food mill is a good idea!
  4. Toss seeds in compost and mix liquid with sugar and lime juice. Heat on medium high and bring to a low boil once again, skimming foam and impurities out of syrup. Boil gently for a few minutes before dropping heat down to medium. You do not want the temperature to reach “soft ball stage” or you’ll be making jelly instead of syrup.
  5. Heat on medium until liquid is reduced by about 1/3 or until it coats a spoon. While hot, pour syrup into a clean mason jar. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks if it’s not consumed first!

Read Full Post »


What makes a matriarch?

Is a matriarch the oldest female in the family, or the wisest, or simply the one who usurps the role? We often conflate age and wisdom in our society, possibly because no one ever feels quite “wise,” but it seems safe to assume that age confers wisdom. I think my own mother would have resisted the role of matriarch; it would not have appealed to her sense of the ephemeral. My sister in law’s mother made a classic old-world matriarch, but probably just because she was Old World right down to the accent, the home-cooked Hungarian meals, and the house dress persona. We all try to shoehorn my mother-in-law  into the role, but she also resists it. This leaves me or my sister in law. Or really it just leaves her, because I think she covets the role. Which is maybe what makes a matriarch.

The matriarch is the unanswerable Mother, the person with the final say. This is the appeal– that someone can say, “Stop”. Someone can say, “Don’t”. That someone actually has the final answer and the right to an expectation of obedience, or at least compliance. It is this expectation that confers the power of the Matriarch, and by extension the wisdom. It’s a feedback loop that reinforces the power– if I give you power over me, I need to justify that with a belief in your wisdom, which gives you power over me.

But it’s not the only role available to old ladies. The witch-woman, the Crone, the Crazy Old Lady, also has her place alongside the Matriarch, in fact without her the Matriarch is too powerful. Like the King needs his Fool, the Matriarch needs her wise woman who basically doesn’t put up with her bull. The matriarch sustains the status quo and provides continuity, while the witch woman provides the potion that turns your world upside down. The matriarch offers stability and the witch-woman passion.

The concept of the matriarch, the Powerful Old Lady, is very appealing. I am too young for this role, and at any rate, I’m headed straight towards Crazy Old Lady. I also don’t have enough of a satellite system, so to speak– no young ‘uns, and not much of an extended family. (Which brings up the other question of how large your tribe needs to be before it even requires a matriarch.)

The world needs both– the Matriarch to provide the base, and the Crone to blow it up. Tradition and Innovation, Wisdom and Passion, Power and Magic.

Is there a Matriarch or a Crone in your tribe?

My mother would have been 90 this month Thursday. She died more than 30 years ago, so we’ll never know if she would have been the matriarch, or the witch woman, or if she would have been simply mom. Are you Matriarch, or Crone?

Read Full Post »

We got real clean, and rounded up some real men (in our own backyards!) and now I think everyone’s back to gardening. Because of the cold, wet spring, everything in Chicago is two weeks behind, and some early summer harvests simply never happened- peas, greens, chard lost to the floods of rain, the cold nights and the temperature fluctuations.

But plants are smart–they responded to the adverse conditions by hunkering down, staying low and sturdy; I’ve never seen such stout tomatoes or squash and peppers with foliage this dense. The broccoli, normally done and bolting by this time of year, is making up for the lack of peas.

Last week we talked about our husbands, and their role as the caretakers and heavy lifters. But the truth is, we all fill this role, as husbands of the earth. We are simply the caretakers and heavy lifters of the garden.

It’s the plants that do most of the work.


Here at Chiot’s things are lush and growing well. The garden have emerged victoriously after the long dormancy of winter, it’s like a different world. It’s always truly amazing to me this time of year when I look around and see all the green and pops of color. I’m very thankful for living in an area with distinct seasons. I’m happy to be harvesting fruits, vegetables, and herbs from my garden and I really look forward to a summer filled with homegrown goodness! I’m also thankful for the beauty of the flowers, even the humble white clover in the lawn.

Are you husband to your plants?

Read Full Post »

Leaving the Farm

We all need a break from our daily lives, now and then. Each summer we try to get away from the daily grind for at least a couple of days before the madness that is summer-horse-camp-season begins. I run a small day camp for several weeks each summer and its intense demands tend to break me if I haven’t had a respite shortly before it starts.

This year we had a lot to more to think about when making plans to travel. We have several new additions on the farm and it’s not just a matter of throwing the ducks some AM grain and checking the cat water. We have sheep, chickens, very young chicks and quail to consider, in addition to our already established ducks, dogs and cat, and it was definitely not easy to find someone to farm sit.

Our original farm sitter fell through two days before we were supposed to leave and on such short notice I was in a downright tizzy trying to find a replacement. After trying a number of people it occurred to us that Jeremy’s brother, Jason, would be a good person to ask since he is capable, intelligent and responsible. We contacted him and he was available! All that was left then was to prep the farm to make things as easy as possible for him. We wrote him a novel of a note, explaining each animal and their routine. We also left him his favorite pop, snacks, fresh flowers, emergency phone numbers and some highly recommended DVDs since we don’t have TV beyond the DVD player. (I’m really hoping he has a chance to watch some of The Fabulous Beekman Boys season 1!)

We gave everybody extra food and water for our weekend away. The quail cracked me up by running back and forth between the two waters, trying to decide which one was better. I had wanted to finish their new coop in the barn before leaving, but decided it was probably more convenient to just keep them in the tiny cage for two more days rather than stressing them right before we left. (I’ll have to post photos of the coop when I’m done. It’s a pretty cool design if I do say so myself: double decker!)

Next came the chicks, which are now two and a half weeks old. I bought them a large automatic poultry waterer and filled the base with marbles to keep them from climbing into it and drowning. I also bought a small reel feeder (bottom right) so that Jeremy’s brother only needs to fill it if they finish the three pounds of food I managed to cram into it. I have both of these new contraptions sitting on top of an overturned wooden seed tray to keep them a bit higher than the scratchings of the chickens. They love to fill their food and water with shavings!

In the barn I filled our older chickens’ automatic waterer and feeder and I set out hay for the sheep in individual flakes and scrubbed their water bucket. I tried to make things as simple as possible for Jason, setting things in obvious places and making things easy to access.

Before we left we took him around and showed him how everything worked. We showed him the way Getrude-the-sheep likes to leap through the barn door to try to escape into the driveway. We showed him the way the duck door has sharp staples sticking out of it and can be difficult to latch. I tried to think of all of those little things that we are used to that he might find difficult.

Lucky for me, the weather has been perfect for the gardens and if it sticks to the forecast I won’t have to bug Jason at all about watering or doing anything at all with the green stuff.  Just in case, though, I ran hoses to all of the gardens and set up sprinklers that would be easy to turn on and off. Of course we told him to help himself to fresh lettuce, greens, radishes, peas and strawberries! Now all he has to do is put up with my neurotic and obsessive texting to see how everybody’s doing. (Jason if you read this, text me back! Just kidding – or am I?)

Do you ever leave your farms/gardens in the hands of sitters? What do you do to help them cope with your complicated everyday tasks?

Read Full Post »

Summer is the season of cookouts. You can spend almost every weekend at a cookout if you want to. It’s a danger zone for those of us that are REAL foodies though, all that CAFO meat and heavily processed food. How’s a REAL foodie to survive the cookout season without looking like a food snob, making others feel guilty or simply making yourself crazy?

First: relax, you don’t have to worry about eating all REAL food all the time. Simply go, eat what you want and enjoy yourself – and don’t feel guilty. Of course if you’re going to a cookout every weekend you’ll want to have few other survival strategies.

Second: take some time to make a game plan and learn what foods are the safest choice. A hamburger is less processed and has fewer preservatives and additives than a hot dog. Plain potato or tortilla chips aren’t chocked full of artificial flavors or dyes like cheese puffs and other flavored/colored snacks.

Third: take food. I’m not saying take your own meal for yourself, take some REAL food to share with everyone. I have found that this is the best method for converting others to joy of eating REAL food. Cookouts are usually laid back events and it’s not weird or uncommon for people to bring food and most hosts are very appreciative when you bring something that you’ve spent time making. You don’t have to go out of your way to take a bunch of food, but a few key dishes will give you more than enough to fill your plate. I often take homemade burger buns, who can resist homemade rolls? People are usually so thankful when I do because let’s face it, store bought rolls usually leave a lot to be desired. Often I’ll take some ground venison for burgers as well, so people can try some game meat. Most of the people we know have mentioned that they’d love to try it someday, so it’s my way of providing us with some good meat and sharing with others something they’ve expressed interest in. Perhaps you can take some ground pastured beef and say you just wanted to share because it was so good. When you deal with issues this way you don’t come off as a food snob, you come of as someone that’s excited about something and wants to share it with others.

Then when people talk about how great your ___________ was, you have an opportunity to tell them about how you made it and why it’s so good. I’ve noticed through experience that people are usually amazed when they eat something homemade and will usually make it a point to come talk to you about it. I always tell them how I made it and why. More often than not it starts a wonderful conversation about REAL food. Even if I don’t convert people to eating REAL food, I’ve gotten a lot of people to spend a little more time thinking about where their food comes from.

Taking a plate of homegrown vegetables is also a great idea. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t excited when they see me bring a few freshly picked tomatoes from my garden to a cookout. Usually they’re oooing and ahhhing over the lovely color, the shape and the smell.

You may find however that eating too much processed food after eating mostly REAL will wreak havoc on your body – especially your digestive system. After eating REAL food for so long my body does not tolerate processed food at all. I end up with a processed food “hangover”- headache, stomachache, nausea and generally feel pretty terrible for the entire next day. If that is the case, eat before you go, then you can only eat a small amount. Taking some activated charcoal before and after you cookout meal with also help, it will help your body get rid of all of the toxins from the processed foods. If this is the case, be honest. Since most of my acquaintances read my blog, they know my food stances and they understand when I tell them “my body doesn’t handle processed food very well any more”. Usually they say “Oh, I can imagine”.

What tips do you have for surviving the cookout season as a REAL foodie?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Read Full Post »

Sun Flowers

The Solstice is a year-marker. The longest day, the shortest night; the day when the god believes in his supremacy and his triumph over the world. He shines high and strong and hot and proclaims the summer. The Sun flowers are primary- daisy, petunia, primrose, tickweed.

But though the god sleeps through the winter, the goddess is working all summer as well. While the god plays with the flowers in the bright sunshine, she is thinking of the Dark Days, which start today, storing the god’s summer sweetness in the harvest.

My herbalist friend “Om” says,

We use chamomile tea in the chalice and horn cup at our Summer Solstice rituals, especially at the height of the day when it is families with lots of kids. It also brews into a delightful wine. I have also added it to the vinaigrette to go on a feast salad, and put it in fire fruit salad (a mix of citrus fruits that are red, yellow and orange, along with cinnamon and cumin as the main spices). The leaves work well in incense this time of year, and as part of the bundle of herbs used for sweeping and/or asperging.

I have some chamomile left from last year, and tons of fresh volunteers blooming in the garden. Rise before dawn and watch this special sunrise. Make a tea with new chamomile and new local honey, and honor the god who brings the high summer.

Read Full Post »

It’s been great meeting all the men, and their cheerful willingness to be exploited. All that fresh food must have gone to their heads.


The week did NOT start auspiciously. I (Xan) was having trouble firing up the lawn mower (a 30 year old dinosaur of a gas mower, way out of proportion to the amount of grass). Out comes Wei– “is the spark plug hooked up?” Well how helpful! YES the damned spark plug is hooked up. mutter mutter How about you just come over and DO this for me (mutter mutter).

He did offer to help, and in the inexplicable logic of women I wouldn’t let him, because of the “way you asked.” Everybody wins! I’m still struggling with the mower and he gets to go back in the house. Why do we do this to ourselves? He did however, construct a nice little fountain with our old ceramic fish, and fixed the downspout so that I don’t have to haul water INTO the rain barrel anymore (I may have mentioned how pathetic I am at DIY.)


Usually my Hubby, Cody, leaves the digging part of gardening to me. He allows me the freedom to choose which crops we’ll plant for the year, how to design the gardens, and what project and critter dreams we’ll chase for each season. Not always willingly, mind you.


Like when I brought home turkeys and guineas (SURPISE!) without much forthought about where they’d reside. This small bit of acting on impulse (oh, they were so cute!! And the thought of our own heritage turkey for Thanksgiving dinner was overwhelming) caused poor Hubby to spend all of his spring weekends working on building poultry tractors for all of our new birds.

Not half-heartedly either. He’s done an amazing job and put many of his skills to use. He spent many weeks just researching and deciding how to build the tractors before we even bought the first piece of wood. Just like when he built the water barrel system.
I’m the dreamer and he’s the builder of those dreams. I’m the whimsy and he’s the planner. Yes. I’m very lucky indeed because I couldn’t do any of it without his help.
put the camera down and help me


What do your fellow travelers do in your garden?

Read Full Post »

Why hello! I am Emily’s husband, Jeremy.  You might’ve seen pictures of me doing various farmy type stuff.  I like to be very supportive towards any and all of Emily’s flora and fauna vices.  I love animals and I like to eat vegetables, but I’m really whiny when it comes to physical labor. I’m really appreciative that Emily puts up with it.

I draw for a living, which is easier to do from the inside of a house, so about 94.78% of everything Emily posts about is all her.  I know it bums her out a little and she covers it up really well.  When she does tap me on the shoulder and say “I need you outside” I drop my brush and try not to be a poop head.  I do love the out-of-doors and we do make several camping trips throughout the summer.  The things I love to draw the most are organic in nature and are influenced by artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, and Winsor McKay to name a few.

I, myself, like to be a bit creative in the kitchen [not as successfully as Emily] and I appreciate her exotic layering of different flavors to entice the palette.  I do the majority of the cooking though and usually that means a meal that is less thought out and quicker in prep time.  Emily is outrageously good at preparing special suppers and the like, when she has a goal in mind. She’s getting a lot better with multi-tasking several dishes at the same time too, but she sure can fill up an empty sink with dirty dishes afterward! 😉 HahAAaa!

I never saw myself as a farmer when I was little, I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was like 6 or something, but I did not see this coming.  Still, I help put the critters out and feed them, and then put them up for the night. It’s not really that hard.  I’ve promised Emily an hour a day to help her in the garden when she needs me.  I know that doesn’t really sound like much but it takes a lot of time to do what I do so that I can pull my weight with bills and things.

I reeeeeaaally enjoy living where we live right now and hopefully we will be here for a while.  You should see the gardens Emily has sweated over; they are really beautiful.  She has an incredible stamina for working outside, I know I couldn’t do that.  But then again I sit at a drawing table for 10 hours a day.

When Emily and I first met she knew me as that art snob that worked at the art store and she totally had a crush on me.  I remember seeing a really pretty girl that I thought was out of my league.  Then, a year later I eavesdropped on a conversation between her and a coworker of mine about Terry Gilliam and I had to put my two cents in about his brilliance and that’s how the ball started rolling.  I think the thing that really cinched it was our mutual love of childrens’ books.

While she is trying her best to become the next Tasha Tudor I am working hard to be somewhat of an Arthur Rackham with the line work of Gustave Dore.  Now when Emily posts pictures she usually does really nice photos of her gardens or the animals or something she conjured in the kitchen; I don’t really do so much of that.  Soooooo I will put up some of the stuff I dabble in. So here you go.  Hope you like it and can sympathize with why I spend so much of my time avoiding going outside.

I too have my own blog. I am not as efficient as Emily at loading it with good stuff on a regular schedule but you can see more of what I do, while Emily is earning her callouses outside.  You can visit me at jeremybastian.blogspot.com.  Thank you all for taking the time.


Read Full Post »

Obligatory Title

Not Dabbling has been on my daily browsing list for quite some time now. I will admit that I am a lurker. Always reading – Never posting.

I grew up in rural Tennessee on a 150 acre farm. In the late 80’s I ran a small poultry operation. I used a recycled box truck bed as a coop, experimented with no-till farming to feed the birds, and used the bird manure in the garden. I didn’t know what organic was back then, but by today’s standard, both the eggs and meat produced would be pretty close to organic. In the early 90’s I moved to the city and left my farming life behind.

Today, I am a technologist by trade. I don’t consider myself a true computer geek, but I suppose most people would. I am the guy with the smart phone, laptop, busy schedule, project deadlines et al. My life today is VERY plugged in. Needless to say when my wife suggested getting into poultry, I was the consummate skeptic. I didn’t think we had the time for birds because I remembered all the DIFFICULT things about it, I also wasn’t sure Jennifer was really up to the task.

I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

As Jennifer went down the path of poultry husbandry, I followed right behind with a watchful eye. I was tasked with housing, and was able to tap into latent abilities learned on the farm many, many moons ago. I began to remember the REWARDING things about caring for birds. I began to connect with dormant parts of my history.

Now that Jennifer is 100%, certifiable bird crazy (read that any way you want), I continue to find other connections in her blog. I also connect to what all of you do. At one point or another, I have been reminded of the person I once was by every Lady on this blog. Your writings and photographs clearly relay the passion that each of you has for Not Dabbling in Normal. That passion helps me unplug from time to time. I stop to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

Thank you Jennifer. Thank you Ladies of NDIN. You all have a great thing going on here. I will continue to lurk as long as you all continue to write.

– Cody


Read Full Post »

From the distaff side

I’ve been asked to write something for this blog, and I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve done any creative writing. Memos? Sure, all the time; love my email. But not so much writing on a topic, particularly an assigned one.

Especially gardening. In spite of its major role in our household, gardening is pretty mysterious to me. Some people were over the other day, and I gave them a tour of the garden, doing it solo since Xan wasn’t home. The tour consisted of me walking them through and pointing out the obvious (here’s broccoli!), the well marked (I think this is basil—oh yeah, there’s the sign), and the rest of the time waving my hand in a general direction (those are flowers over there). I am not the one with the green thumb.

I’m okay with helping out, though. I’ve been known to wrestle the ten-pound cobblestone into yet another new walkway configuration, or help set up fencing to keep out the rabbits. I can be trusted to do some watering, and though it fills me with anxiety, I can pick vegetables without tearing off the wrong parts of the plant. I’m also primary keeper of the fish pond, though I’m not sure this should really be considered helping out in the garden. It’s more of a way to get me out of my office and into the fresh air…yet not be underfoot among the greenery.

As peripheral as I am to the gardening, I find it pretty interesting to hang out with someone who is so very into it. Of course it’s a constant pleasure to look out on what Xan has created, and always fun to talk about the things that need to be done, that should be done, and the fun stuff that could be done. In fact it’s a little bit like raising children (including, I’m afraid, the budget). I also like the way our garden is connected to the larger world and how it makes you think about where our food comes from. More people should be gardening!

Or at least hanging out with the lady who does.

–Wei C.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: